Since 2010, Wakatū has been engaged in litigation against the Crown. Our journey began in the High Court with a six week hearing in 2010 and 2011. We progressed to the Court of Appeal in 2014. In 2015, the Supreme Court confirmed that a full Court of five judges will hear our case against the Crown.
Supreme Court grants leave to appeal
The Supreme Court has granted leave to the Proprietors of Wakatū (represented by Wakatū Inc), Rore Stafford, kaumatua, and Te Kahui Ngahuru Trust to appeal the Court of Appeal’s 2014 decision. In that decision, the Court of Appeal decided that the Crown did not owe legal duties to the Maori land owners of the Tenths Reserves in Nelson, Motueka and Golden Bay.
Why this is a significant step
The Supreme Court considers very few cases each year and will only grant leave to cases which are nationally and legally significant, so this is an important step for the original Maori owners of the Tenths Reserves and the owners of Wakatū Incorporation. By granting leave to appeal, the Court has recognised that our case is of public importance.
The Supreme Court is New Zealand’s highest court of law. Our case is against the Crown. It examines the legal relationship between the Crown and the Maori land owners of the Tenths Reserves. We argue that the Crown breached its legal duties as a trustee of Maori Land in the Nelson region because it failed to reserve the full one-tenth of land in Nelson, Motueka and Golden Bay. In relation to the land the Crown did reserve, it failed to protect that land as a trustee is legally required to do, for the benefit of the Maori owners.
What remedy are we seeking in the Supreme Court?
We are asking the Court to make a declaration that the Crown owes legally enforceable obligations as a trustee of Maori land to the owners of that land, and that the Crown has breached those duties as a trustee.
We are asking the Supreme Court to apply the same minimum legal standards to the Crown that it would apply to any other trustee of land or property, where that trustee is looking after land or property on behalf of others. We want the Supreme Court to recognise that Maori people are entitled to the same legal and property rights as all other New Zealanders.
We are also asking the Court to apply case law from Canada which recognises that in cases involving the Crown and Maori, the honour and reputation of the Crown is at stake and as such the Crown must act according to a high standard.
These are important legal questions that have not yet been fully considered by New Zealand’s Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court heard our case on Monday 12 October to Thursday 15 October 2015.
We expect to wait several months for the Court's decision.